The Dangers of Road Rage
The next time you get behind the wheel, watch out. There are many angry drivers on the road. Recently, one Corpus Christi road rage incident allegedly started at a local elementary school around 7:30 a.m. and ended with a truck crashing into a home.
More recently, Corpus Christi police officers were called when gunshots were allegedly fired from a 2005 Chevrolet Suburban directly at a passenger vehicle, striking the car. The police determined that the incident occurred between two moving vehicles and escalated into shots being fired.
Police also charged a Texas man after a couple filmed him allegedly taunting them and striking their car with his SUV during an apparent road-rage incident. There were children in both vehicles.
Road rage is becoming increasingly common, but it can be dangerous. Drivers exhibiting signs of road rage may be unable to think clearly and may even resort to acts of violence. No matter how aggravating the circumstances, every driver has a duty to control his or her temper and drive responsibly. If you were injured in a road rage incident, you should speak to a knowledgeable car accident attorney about your legal options.
Why Does Road Rage Happen?
Data from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that Americans drive an average of nearly 12,000 miles each year. We are spending a great deal of time on the road. For the average American, driving time equals about seven 40-hour weeks at the office. Stress is everywhere in our lives, but driving can be frustrating.
So much of our driving takes place on congested roads, or through endless construction zones often leads to impatience, anger, and road rage. Road rage and other types of aggressive driving are involved in about a third of all traffic accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, road rage resulted in 12,000 injuries and 218 fatalities over a seven-year period.
Road rage usually starts with one driver, who may tend to lose his or her temper. Explosive tempers are fueled by impatience. Other drivers may be perceived to be not just incompetent but deliberately rude. Drivers may be aggravated by slow traffic when they’re in a hurry, even though traffic jams caused by such things as road construction are not other drivers’ fault. Impatience is a fuel that feeds road rage fires. Then there’s a false sense of invulnerability. The feeling of being anonymous and overly secure in the car that leads people to do things they would not ordinarily do.
It’s happening everywhere. Cities in Texas, Michigan, Georgia, and Minnesota were known as “road rage capitals.” Road rage can take many forms, and it often escalates to violence. Approximately 37 percent of road rage incidents involve a gun. Road rage causes car accidents which leads to about 30 murders each year. The Texas DPS reports that road rage incidents have increased since the 1990s, however, it is difficult to measure the actual extent of road rage incidents because many road rage behaviors are considered aggressive driving.
According to an article in the New York Times about a high profile road rage case, a confrontation began after former N.F.L. player Joe McKnight and another driver, Ronald Gasser, cut each other off. Gasser told investigators that the parties then had a verbal altercation. McKnight allegedly approached Gasser, who pulled out a handgun and shot and killed him.
What Is the Difference Between Road Rage and Aggressive Driving?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines road rage as when a driver “commits moving traffic offenses so as to endanger other persons or property; an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger of one motor vehicle on the operator or passenger of another motor vehicle.”
Aggressive driving includes anything considered reckless, such as speeding, tailgating, or blocking another car from passing. Often it involves screaming, making rude gestures, or similar actions. Aggressive driving accidents are often due to willful negligence.
However, road rage often involves a violent intent towards someone else, such as physically fighting with another driver, ramming another car, forcing another driver off the road or using a weapon. According to statistics from the NHTSA, 2 percent of drivers admit to attempting to run another driver off the road. Road rage is a criminal offense, because it constitutes willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others. Aggressive driving is a traffic offense.
Does Texas Have a Law Against Road Rage?
No Texas law specifically addresses road rage. However, many aggressive driving behaviors under other categories, including moving violations and criminal acts.
Reckless driving is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a fine of $200. The Texas Transportation Code defines the offense as operating a vehicle with “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”
In Texas, some forms of road rage are considered deadly misconduct. This could include trying to run someone off the road, deliberately cutting off another driver or other actions that could cause a crash or put the other driver or passengers at risk of serious harm. The offense of deadly misconduct is a Class A misdemeanor if it involves conduct that puts person another in danger.
Assault and Battery
A road rage incident will be an assault or a battery when somebody is harmed if, for example, a driver physically assaults another driver in an altercation.
If the victim is killed in a road crash as a result of road rage or aggressive driving, the offense is likely to be charged as vehicular manslaughter.
A manslaughter offense is a second-degree felony in Texas. The charge usually carries a sentence of two to 20 years in a state prison and/or a fine of no more than $10,000.
Legal Claims for Road Rage
Texas is a fault-based insurance state, which basically means that all parties involved in a collision will seek restitution from the at-fault party’s insurance company. If the driver caused the crash while committing an act of road rage, such as tailgating or cutting off someone, there are additional legal implications.
The injured person could pursue a civil claim for compensation and the driver could be liable for damages, including:
- Medical bills
- Past and future pain and suffering
- Property damage
- Lost wages
- Wrongful death damages
If the driver’s road rage resulted in a criminal act, such as homicide, the victim or his or her family members could pursue a personal injury claim against the perpetrator during or after a criminal case.
Road Rage Statistics
According to traffic safety studies, males under the age of 19 are the most likely to exhibit road rage. However, of those who experience road rage more than four times a week, 34 percent were 18-34 years old and female. Road rage has been directed at 39.2 percent of men and 28.9 percent of women.
It appears that age and driving experience affect aggressive driving. Millennials (people born between 1981 and 1996) were involved in more than 50 percent of all aggressive driving accidents. Gen X (those born a generation before the millennials) were involved in only 21 percent of aggressive driving accidents. Baby boomers (the next generation to retire) were involved in the fewest aggressive driving accidents (4.2 percent of all crashes).
Speeding is often involved in road rage incidents. However, many drivers appear to be unaware of the dangers of speeding. Studies show that 86 percent of drivers believe it’s safe to drive at least 10 miles per hour over the speed limit on the highway.
Recently, The Zebra, an insurance comparison site, conducted a national survey of American drivers to learn more about road rage. Among their findings, a shocking 82 percent of drivers in the U.S. admit to road rage or aggressive driving at least once in the past year. Over half said they had seen road rage incidents directed against themselves or someone else, but most said they did not report it to the police. Only 10 percent of drivers did call the police in the past year regarding such incidents.
The survey showed that:
- 59 percent of drivers reported showing anger by honking.
- 45 percent have changed lanes without signaling.
- 42 percent of drivers say they have cursed or shouted at another driver.
- 38 percent have used rude or obscene gestures against other drivers.
While not all road rage incidents have led to a physical confrontation, The Zebra found that:
- 7 percent got out of their vehicle to verbally confront another driver.
- 6 percent threw something at another driver.
- 6 percent got in a physical fight with another driver.
- 5 percent sideswiped another vehicle.
- 5 percent intentionally rammed another vehicle.
- 5 percent forced another driver off the road.
Common Road Rage Behaviors
Some of the most common road rage behaviors are tailgating, cutting another car off, and distracted driving. Data from NHTSA’s Fatal Accident Report System (FARS) identified additional behaviors commonly associated with aggressive driving, such as:
- Following improperly
- Illegal passing
- Improper or erratic lane changing
- Failure to yield right of way
- Disobeying traffic signs or signals
- Failure to obey safety zone laws
- Failure to observe warnings or instructions on a vehicle displaying them
- Failure to signal
- Driving too fast for conditions or in excess of the posted speed limit
- Racing another vehicle
- Making an improper turn
- Brake checking (deliberately braking hard in front of another vehicle)
- Flashing headlights or high beams
- Excessive horn use
- confrontational body language
- Driving where it is not permitted, such as on the shoulder of the road, on a sidewalk, in a ditch or on a median
- Erratic driving, or driving in a manner that is negligent, careless or reckless.
Unfortunately, traffic laws and motor vehicle safety systems cannot protect you from an aggressive driver. Studies show that aggressive driving plays a part in approximately 66 percent of traffic deaths.
The Psychology of Road Rage
In a recent survey, 60 percent of drivers said that they felt that dangerous, aggressive driving by others, including speeding, amounted to a serious personal threat to them and their families. 98 percent of drivers believe that it is important to take measures to reduce the prevalence of speeding and unsafe driving. 30 percent of drivers felt unsafe on the road within the last month.
Mental health professionals say behaviors are a problem when they have negative consequences. There are many consequences associated with road rage, including tickets, arrests, license suspension, increased car insurance rates, lawsuits, or worse, injuring or killing someone. People have been stabbed, shot, beaten, and run down by perpetrators of road rage.
Studies show that there is a significant relationship between road rage and alcohol. Problems with alcohol are consistently associated with attempting or actually hurting someone or damaging their vehicle.
Psychologists are studying what makes some people more prone to road rage and how to keep them from becoming a danger on the road. Counseling psychologist Jerry Deffenbacher, Ph.D., of Colorado State University, found that high-anger drivers differ from low-anger drivers in five key ways.
- Their thoughts tend to be contentious or hostile. They’re more likely to be belligerent about other’s driving habits or insult other drivers and their thoughts frequently turn to revenge.
- They take more risks when driving. They are more likely to speed, tailgate, change lanes rapidly, or enter an intersection on a red light.
- They get angry faster and their aggressive behavior ramps up quickly. They yell at other drivers, make rude gestures or honk the horn repeatedly. These behaviors may extend to other situations throughout the day.
- High-anger drivers get more tickets for speeding and have twice as many car accidents in driving simulations.
- They are more likely to experience impulsiveness, anxiety, and anger.
Were You a Victim of Road Rage?
Expressing rage while behind the wheel is more dangerous than many other displays of anger. Those exhibiting road rage sometimes use their vehicles as weapons, and often put lives in danger, both negligently and intentionally. If you were injured in a road rage accident, speak with a car accident attorney who can explain your legal options, protect your rights, and seek the compensation you deserve.
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